East Webster takes lead in softball series
East Webster pitcher Swayze Hollenhead (15) delivers to the plate while first baseman Bailey Williams assumes defensive position. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
EUPORA â€“ If you listened close enough Thursday night, you probably could have heard the exhale from the East Webster fanbase.
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On a night that saw the Wolverines strand 10 total baserunners, including five in the first two innings alone, Bailey Williams' two-out, two-run double in the fourth inning finally relieved the pressure off of the Wolverines offense as they went on to record a 6-4 win over Mantachie.
"That hit started us out pretty good and pumped us up to start hitting," said Williams. "After that, everything changed. It had been stressful, but then we all got up for it."
Williams' three total RBIs helped the Wolverines (17-6) lay the foundation for what is now a 1-0 lead over the Mustangs in the best-of-three series.
Swayze Hollenhead took the pitching win for East Webster, despite battling through what was, at times, a tough night.
Hollenhead struck out six, but walked three in her complete-game effort.
Yet East Webster's biggest problem proved to be its inability to get clutch hits.
In every inning, save for the sixth, the Wolverines left at least one runner on base.
As the the game progressed as a scoreless tie into the middle innings, Wolverines head coach Meleah Brown was concerned her team's missed chances might come back to haunt them.
"When we get those runners on, we've got to get them in," said Brown. "After I saw Mantachie hitting the ball, I knew we couldn't afford to leave those runners on base."
Williams proved to be the driving force behind turning East Webster's fortunes around.
The Wolverines first baseman drove in the game's first run in the bottom of the third, bringing in Hollenhead on a sacrifice fly.
Though Mantachie (13-6) evened the score at 1-1 in the top of the fourth, Williams again struck in the home half of the frame.
Shortly after Katie Gordon reached on an error and came all the way around to score courtesy of wild pitches from Mantachie starting hurler Taylor Barber, Williams stepped to the plate with two outs and slapped a two-run double that scored Cayley McClellan and Hollenhead, giving East Webster a 4-1 lead and allowing the Wolverines dugout to finally breathe.
"At first, I think they were a little nervous," said Brown. "We'd been talking all week about the pitching and, not to knock (Barber), but this pitching is slower than what we've been seeing and what we're used to seeing. The girls were saying, 'oh no, we're not going to be able to hit (Barber)' and I told them 'yes you will, just calm down. It may take a few innings, but we'll get adjusted to it.'"
Once things started clicking for East Webster, Mantachie head coach Brandon Bell said he was highly impressed with the Wolverines offense.
"I expected them to hit it, but I didn't expect them to hit it that well," said Bell. "But it's just the sign of a good team and good teams come to play at playoff time."
Bell's Mustangs didn't go down without a fight.
Mantachie battled all the way back to tie the game in the fifth with three runs of its own.
"That's the same inning we gave up a leadoff walk and had an error behind that later," said Brown. "You can't do that. You can't have a walk and an error in the same inning. You can afford to give up a walk one inning and an error in another, but you can't have both."
Fortunately for the Wolverines, their bats remained hot in the home half of the fifth.
Katie Gordon followed up Chloe Roberson's one-out walk with an RBI triple and Autumn Frost drove in Gordon one batter later to push East Webster's lead out to two.
From there, Hollenhead settled into the circle, retiring six of the final seven batters she faced to polish off the win on the same Eupora field where East Webster had advanced to the second round just five days prior.
Thursday's contest was held in Eupora due to the storm damage at East Webster's campus in Cumberland.
Now, the current series shifts to the Mustangs' home turf. The set resumes Saturday at 11 a.m. in Mantachie. A win by the Mustangs would send the series to a third game, also to be played on Saturday.
Whoever advances will go on to face either Hatley or Baldwyn in the North State finals.
Brown has high hopes it will be her Wolverines moving on to the next postseason round, but she'd like East Webster to do things a little easier in the coming games.
"We won (Thursday), but it was definitely a close game, too close," said Brown. "I'm hoping Saturday, we go (to Mantachie) and take care of business."